A High-Value SPG Redemption at the Le Meridien N'Fis in Marrakech
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Marrakech, Morocco, is just under two hours by air from my home in Madrid, Spain, so it's an easy weekend getaway whenever I'm in need of a little sunshine. I usually stay at chic boutique riads, but when I needed to head there on a work trip for TPG recently, I realized that the Le Meridien N'Fis only required 3,000 Starpoints for an award night (just 2,000 on weekends!). Although I had already stayed there 10 years back, I thought it'd be fun to check out the hotel now to see what you could get for just a few thousand Starpoints.
I decided to pay for my Ambassador King Bed suite in cash, which cost me $395 per night as an SPG Gold member. Regular room rates were hovering around $230 per night, though in low season they can be closer to $150. Then TPG video director Jessica Rovniak, who would be meeting me there with an SPG Platinum membership, paid for her superior room with Starpoints — just 3,000 per night (it's only 2,000 on weekends, but our stay was during the week). I wanted to see if she would also be upgraded thanks to that Platinum status and if we'd both end up with the same suite.
I paid for my room using my SPG Amex, earning 2x per dollar plus a 50% bonus thanks to my Gold status. The other cool thing was that my two-night suite stay came with a 3,000-point bonus gift, meaning I essentially earned an extra free night there. I was tempted to redo my reservation to make two one-night stays, which could then earn me a 6,000-point bonus (3,000 per stay), but I felt that abusing the system would be pushing it. My room also came with a local amenity, which I later found out was an undefined spa experience.
In the end, Jessica was upgraded to a suite and we had basically the same rooms — her suite (upgrade) for 3,000 Starpoints per night (when room rates were close to $230) and mine for $395 per night plus 3,000 bonus Starpoints.
The Le Merdien N'Fis wasn't directly inside the souks but was a fairly close taxi ride. It's a good idea to ask the porters standing outside the hotel to confirm the taxi price with the driver before leaving, as Marrakech taxis don't use meters. Twenty dirhams ($2.15) was the price before 8:00pm and 30 dirhams ($3.25) after 8:00pm.
The N'Fis was across the street from the Menara Mall, a modern shopping center with several familiar stores and restaurants (even a Chili's).
Getting to and from the airport was quick and painless. It would've been about a 15-minute ride, about 100 dirhams (around $10.75), in a taxi, but since I wasn't in the mood to haggle in French, the hotel had an air-conditioned van ready and waiting for me at the airport for 300 dirhams ($32).
A friendly driver was waiting for me at Marrakech Menara Airport (RAK). Upon arrival at the Le Meridien N'Fis, the van was quickly checked by security, and a porter immediately unloaded my bags and took them inside. Guests had to walk through a metal detector, but it didn't slow anything down — I was never asked to stop or to have my bag searched.
A man with a beautiful silver teapot poured me a glass of Moroccan mint tea (he would pour me tea pretty much any time I was in the lobby for the remainder of my stay, which was amazing). The lobby was luminous and large, with comfortable sofas and a beautiful decorative dome.
Although I arrived a bit early, around 12:30pm, I was immediately assigned a suite and told it was ready. My check-in agent told me that my rate came with breakfast and a spa experience, but he was unsure of what that meant specifically. He said I could ask in the spa later.
It didn't occur to me to ask to be near Jessica's suite, but I later realized I should have, because I was in a completely different building than she was and the property was larger than I remembered after my first stay a decade ago. If you're traveling as a group but with separate reservations, be sure to ask to be put in the same building.
I was assigned Suite 472 in one building and Jess was in Suite 340 in another building. I've used photos of both suites, as they were decorated a bit differently, but came with pretty much the same amenities.
My room was decked out in yellow and blue with a lighter wood color. Hers was in black and red with darker wood.
Each suite came with a powder room, dining/living room area, desk, table, sofa, coffee table and armchairs.
The living room also had a closet with ironing board and TV. Large, beautiful doors with wooden etchings led to the bedroom.
The bedroom had a king bed, Moroccan-themed decor, another TV and two nightstands with lamps.
There were also two small closets in the bedroom, one of which had a safe. The rooms were clean, but some of the decor was dated and the furniture worn in spots.
The main difference between the suites (besides the color scheme) was that Jess's suite had two balconies, one with two chairs and a table.
My suite also had two balconies, but they were small and without seating options. Having stayed in the hotel before, I was disappointed that it was a bit hazy during my stay, because I knew the balconies would have had a killer view of the Atlas Mountains.
Each suite was incredibly spacious. I liked the fact that there were two separate areas and a lot of storage space. It would've been nice to stay for a longer period of time — even two people would have had plenty of space for a week or more.
The suites also came with a robe and slippers, a wine opener, a fridge and minibar, a large bottle of water and a bowl of fruit. There were enough plugs, but they were sporadic — they were located in different spots in each suite. I noticed a Bose sound system, but the port was for an iPhone 4 — time for an update.
The main bathrooms were large, with separate shower and bathtub areas.
I thought it was a bit odd that while the shower stalls were large, the drainage areas in the showers were small and square, not filling up the whole space.
The double vanity was visibly dated, but the plentiful Malin+Goetz amenities were greatly appreciated.
The hair dryer was small and rather weak. The powder room, which was off of the living room, had a sink and toilet.
The cleaning crew did such a great job that I couldn't find all of my toiletries right away because they were so well-organized. Wi-Fi was easy to connect to and worked well for the duration of my stay.
I also noticed that the elevators were small and a little dated compared to the rest of the property. They could definitely have used an update. While the room decor wasn't super modern, I had a comfortable stay in these roomy suites.
Food and Beverage
The breakfast buffet was available from 6:30am to 10:30am, and the space was off the lobby with both indoor and outdoor seating options. The buffet was well-stocked with fresh fruit, cereal, pastries and hot food like eggs, cooked vegetables and breakfast meats. Freshly squeezed juice was also available, and there were two large coffeemakers. Of course, there was plenty of mint tea. A woman made Moroccan pancakes off to one side, with honey, jam or olive oil available as toppings.
Although the food at the buffet was pretty good, the number of children running around was obnoxious. While I recognized and appreciated that the hotel was family-friendly, it was unsafe (and annoying) to have children running around and shoving people during the buffet. More than once, I had to quickly jump aside carrying a full plate of food to avoid being run over by rowdy kids. I also saw children (in full view of the parents) touching food in the buffet and putting it back and dropping fruit on the floor that would be left there, untouched and not cleaned up by staff. I was relieved both mornings to finally sit down with my plate of food, knowing I had made it unscathed to my table, even pre-coffee!
I ordered room service on two occasions and was pleased with my orders. The best was the Moroccan food, savory tagine and sweet Moroccan pastries covered in honey.
Both the salmon and swordfish were dependable, filling and tasty. I was happy to see that you could also order wine, which was harder to come by at the restaurants in the souks.
One evening, I popped into the bar, considering grabbing a drink, but only men were there — no women. I'm sure it would have been fine, but I just wasn't feeling the male-only vibe and made an executive decision to order wine and dessert in my room instead.
In general, service was inconsistent. When I called the front desk or room service, they were friendly once they answered, but it took ages for them to pick up the phone. Some of the staff were fine, but others were exceptionally unhelpful.
Having small change was important when taking taxis, and the front desk refused to give me any or offer alternatives. While I took this small setback in stride, I actually watched another guest (note: not TPG video director Jessica) get into a verbal altercation with one of the front-desk staff who refused to make change or even engage with him in any way. Angry, the guest demanded to speak to a manager, stating that "this is no way to treat a Platinum member." While I found the guest to be unnecessarily aggressive, the brusque front-desk staff member's gruff and unhelpful manner was very trying.
In contrast, the porters and housekeepers were friendly and helpful, especially the those offering tea and hailing the taxis.
Another issue I had with the staff was the free spa-service situation (my local amenity) that was included in my rate. No one seemed capable of telling me what it included! I asked a few times at the front desk, where one employee brushed me off and told me he had no idea what I was talking about and that my room rate didn't include any such thing (the brusque, unhelpful trend continued). The spa kept telling me to ask the front desk, and vice versa.
Finally, after about six or seven tries at various times of day with different staff members (at this point, I wasn't even sure I wanted a spa service anymore) they told me at the spa that the amenity included 20 minutes in the Turkish bath and a 20-minute massage for two people. The massage was firm and the steam room relaxing, but the spa wasn't exceptionally beautiful or well-maintained, and the spa workers were a little awkward.
The kicker is that when I got my bill, I was shocked to see a charge of 200 dirhams ($21.50) for it. I asked what the charge was for, and was told that my "free" service was only included up to 200 dirhams, and the services I had booked came to 400 dirhams ($43). While it was only the equivalent of about $22, I refused to pay out of principle. Eventually, it was wiped from my bill, but I was disappointed in the absolutely awful and disorganized way it was handled. My advice? Steer clear of the spa, even if it's supposedly included in the rate. It was more hassle than it was worth, and going to a traditional hammam in the souks is much more fun than this strange and over-complicated experience was.
While the spa wasn't the strong point of this hotel, the gorgeous pool was large and well-kept, and although I didn't take a dip, I did manage to spend half an hour lying around in one of the cabanas while working on my phone — total bliss!
There were plenty of lounge chairs and quiet spots to relax, and the pool itself was huge.
The fitness center was small but well-equipped, overlooking the pool area.
The grounds were lovely. Colorful, blooming flowers and palm trees lined the pathways, and the property was full of orange trees. Quaint fountains were also strategically placed throughout the grounds. There was a tennis court hidden in the back, but it was rather overgrown.
This is a solid SPG redemption. During high season, when room rates cost around $200 or more, you're getting a value of about 7 cents per point (or even 10 cents, if your stay is over a weekend), which is amazing considering TPG values Starpoints at 2.7 cents apiece. If you have elite status, chances of getting an upgrade are high, and you really can't beat a suite with balconies and an extra powder room for just 3,000 points per night. Considering a suite cost $395, that's a value of 13.2 cents per point (or 20 cents per point on a weekend redemption)! Remember that this redemption rate is only valid until August — once SPG and Marriott merge their points programs, who knows what category this hotel will be assigned.
That being said, hotel service was extremely inconsistent, which was problematic at times. I really couldn't understand how one staff member could politely ask about my day with a smile but another would brush me aside while barely looking at me when I asked a question. Management definitely needs to work on training the staff. While the rooms were spacious and comfortable, they were slightly dated, but the amazing pool made up for it!
I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again, though, despite the staff — especially when I have more time to enjoy the refreshing, beautiful pool. Maybe I'll use those 3,000 bonus Starpoints I earned for an award night there this summer.